Thursday, September 21, 2017

The world of Amalanhig: The Vampire Chronicle is populated by morons

There's a sequence at the end of Jun Posadas' Amalanhig: The Vampire Chronicle (yeah there's apparently only one chronicle) that doubles as a music video for the band The Late Isabel. It has nothing to do with the film and involves Jerico Estregan fighting a maggot-eating creature while upside down. It has absolutely nothing to do with the movie. It's also not directed by Posadas, and to be perfectly honest I wish that other guy had directed Amalanhig instead, because Amalanhig is the most moronic horror movie of 2017.

Now I know a lot of horror movies are based on stupid people making stupid decisions, but this movie takes the cake. In fact, it takes all the cakes. I don't think there are any more cakes left in the bakery. 

For their research project, a bunch of students investigate the Amalanhig and a spate of mysterious deaths. The evidence for this? A bloody notebook in the possession of Jerico Estregan. Apparently his relative is in the police force or something. Who willingly gives up a bloody piece of evidence from an unsolved case to a bunch of millennials? An idiot, that's who. But he or she is just one of many idiots in this film. That also raises a few more questions. What course are these students taking? Journalism? Biology? Why are they so determined to pass this damn course?

The relentless persistence of these kids is quite outstanding. They are so dedicated to passing their research project on time that they willfully ignore multiple warnings from various people NOT to go on with the investigation, including legendary actress Lilia Cuntapay (sadly, this was her last film before she died last year.) If Lilia Cuntapay is telling you not to go to a creepy place, you fucking listen. 

But because these kids have the collective IQ of a paramecium, they trudge on through the forest and meet an old guy who practices pagan magic and his English speaking old sidekick. This sidekick speaks to them in English apparently for comedic reasons, the same way Dolphy used it back in the day. I am okay with this concept, because at least things aren't boring. Also, old shaman magic guy possesses a magic whip that makes lightsaber sounds. One wonders if they paid Lucasfilm for the royalties.

So most of the movie consists of these two old guys trying to convince this group of young idiots to abandon their search for the Amalanhig. They almost succeed at one point, but then the van stops. Jerico Estregan tries to convince the others to stay because of reasons. They are eventually convinced when one of the other members starts giving a lecture on the pathophysiology, epidemiology and spread of the Human Vampirism Virus. This virus is never brought up again and it's made increasingly clear that it has absolutely nothing to do with the magical origins of the Amalanhig, but since these characters are complete simpletons, this somehow convinces them to pursue their research project anyway.

They are later trapped by this creepy cult, perhaps under threat of death and bodily harm. They are asked why they are so persistent in trying to find out what the Amalanhig's all about. Their response crushed me:

"Gusto lang po naming pumasa sa research namin"
(we just want to pass our research)
- a complete moron

Predictably, most of them die in the end because they are too stupid to live. Miraculously, however, two of them survive. What do they do afterwards? Do they go to the police and report what happened? Do they become vampire hunters? Did they pass their goddamn research paper? Nope. They make out on the beach, complete with slurping sounds. Tsup, tsup, tsup.

Amalanhig: The Vampire Chronicle is excrement for idiots. Its characters do not have the brain power to function as normal human beings. While it has some okay special effects, it's muddled behind very poor filmmaking.

And, by the way:

There's no reason to watch the film anymore. You're welcome.

Cinelokal | I Found My Heart in Santa Fe botches its romance

Viktor (Will Devaughn) comes to scenic and sunny Bantayan Island for a vacation. While there, he meets Jennifer (Roxanne Barcelo), whose family owns a beachside inn. As one might guess from the title, a relationship begins to form.

I Found My Heart in Santa Fe is Cinelokal's first new title (meaning it hasn't been shown anywhere else.) It touts itself as a romantic comedy set in a beautiful exotic location. Unfortunately only one of those statements holds true, because the film is neither funny nor romantic.

As stated in the first paragraph, a relationship does begin to form between Viktor and Jennifer, but a good chunk of the film (more than an hour) has Jennifer acting hostile towards poor Viktor for no apparent reason. In-story Viktor is a pretty chill guy and has done the woman no wrong, making her actions unnecessarily mean towards the poor chap. It turns out she hates him by association: her former lover (also a foreigner) bailed at her wedding, but we don't know that until more than an hour has passed, and by then her character was extremely grating. Perhaps she's just supposed to be coy or something, but Barcelo isn't exactly the best actress to pull it off. When we get a genuine moment between the two, there's only like 20 minutes left in the film, and by then there's no chemistry and no time to build a proper relationship. This is a travesty considering Devaughn and Barcelo are a real life couple and the film could have built on that. Instead the film is content with showing us cringey scenes and histrionics that have zero charm.

That said, Bantayan Island (and Santa Fe by extension) is quite gorgeous. The film makes it a point to show us that there are many fun activities to be had in the island: going to the beach, drinking the night away, running a triathlon, spending some time near a waterfall. I actually want to visit the island after having seen the film. It's more convenient (and entertaining) to just ignore the romance and take in the sights and scenery.

The film decides to engage in histrionics and contrivances instead of engaging in any meaningful drama. A dramatic turn near the end brings more questions than answers (in fact, the whole scene does not have more than a few lines of dialogue, though one can imply what is happening) and its impact on Jennifer's character is annoying rather than dramatic, complete with an exasperated, tone-deaf "sulat nanaman!?"

Forget the tepid romance, but remember the place. If you're a beach person and want to go somewhere nice and relatively quiet, Bantayan Island's a great choice. Enjoy yourself. Life's short, you know?

Cinelokal screens at selected SM cinemas, with new films out every Friday. Visit the Cinelokal Facebook page for more details.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Loving in Tandem is a study of the selfish and the selfless

At a certain point near the end of Loving in Tandem, there is a scene that both makes and breaks the film for me: Shine (Maymay Entrata) admits to Luke (Edward Barber) that she has done something wrong to him. The act is both selfish and selfless: she does it partly out of a need for Luke, yet at the same time she does it for the sake of Luke's mother. It's a scene that proved to be so frustrating and morally complex that it was initially hard to get behind it, and indeed my initial take on the film was that I didn't like it. Since then, I've been thinking about the film and my thoughts on the film are far more ambivalent than they were initially.

The scene that follows this is my favorite in the film, with Luke explaining to Shine that she's trapped in a prison: a prison comprised of people who want her to do what they want. Here, Luke becomes the most reasonable character in the film and he makes a valid point. And it isn't limited to Shine, either: the film is full of people who act both in selfless and selfish ways, people who try to project their own hopes and dreams onto people usually without consulting them first. Whether it be an irresponsible husband unable to properly support his family, or a mother's wish to limit her son's education just so he can stay in with her, or a thief that steals someone's entire life savings for the sake of a loved one, this film is full of such characters. Even the central love team is not immune to this: all throughout the film, we hear side comments goading the central couple to hook up, even if we are unsure of their real thoughts and feelings: people projecting their hopes towards something else. Thanks to the film's remaining ties to formula, the love proves fruitful, but something about that notion disturbs me even after watching the film.

This distinction provides a morally complex landscape that is anomalous compared to the usual sugary sweet Star Cinema production. In this case, crime is motivated not by simple notions of greed or malice, but by need. It's something that proves to be rooted in social realities, and this I appreciate about the film. On the other hand, there are some character decisions that I just can't get behind, which prove to be off putting.

Since I've lived under a rock for the past five years I only realized after the fact that the film is composed of alumni from the latest (and longest season) of Pinoy Big Brother. Fans will find a lot to enjoy from the movie. To its credit, it's pretty funny and entertaining. Sure, there's a bunch of cliches in the standard Star Cinema formula, but one doesn't go to McDonalds for filet mignon. The central loveteam of Entrata and Barbers is an interesting one. Entrata in particular is a promising actress, whose inclusion in the love team challenges traditional love team aesthetics in a refreshing way.

For all its charm, the film does suffer from various flaws, mainly in the characterization and the way the story is structured, and this really hampered my overall enjoyment of the film. Sometimes the film is simply structured badly Certain sideplots are red herrings or meet dead ends, with some plotlines just ending with no resolution. A central conflict regarding Luke isn't fully addressed at the end, though one can imply from the ending during the credits*. We no longer hear about the criminal syndicate, nor do we get closure regarding Shine's outstanding debt towards Luke. Thanks also to the film spending a good half of the running time on that conflict, it operates doubletime during the second half trying to establish its romance, leading to a romance that feels underdeveloped.

Ultimately, despite my many misgivings, I do appreciate the film for what it tries to do to escape its genre trappings. If you can get past its many flaws, Loving in Tandem is actually quite an entertaining experience. It shows us how love can make us act in selfless and selfish ways, and how relationships are not always black and white.

* SPOILER It's kind of a shame to let a US college scholarship-eligible student stay a mere highschool graduate after all is said and done, and this bothered me a lot, though one can assume that Luke pursued a college education here in the Philippines instead.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

DAD: Durugin ang Droga is a hilarious piece of shit that transcends common sense

DAD: Durugin ang Droga, the latest film by auteur and comedian Dinky Doo Clarion, ends with Duterte saying "My Gahd, I hate drugs" followed by what seems like Dinky Doo and the cast and crew of the film going around to promote their anti-drug advocacy. I hope that advocacy doesn't include promoting this "film" because it's... just... I'm actually speechless. I don't even know where to start.

Made with the quality of a Z-grade made for TV movie, Durugin ang Droga is a drama about a family torn apart by drugs. Well, technically only one person in the family is harmed by drugs, but whatever. It's also hilarious for all the wrong reasons. The dad (Allen Dizon) is involved with a bunch of shady drug dealers, leading to him getting a stroke. We now have to deal with Allen Dizon doing this weird paralyzed face for the next hour. This leads to his wife chugging the ol' bottle of booze and his son being rebellious or something. (The son also smokes some weed with his friends, but nothing really happens with that story arc, so I guess drugs aren't that bad after all! Drugs - 1, Family - 0.)

The film fails in almost all of its technical aspects, and it's clear these guys aren't even trying. Several scenes are clearly dubbed after the fact, with no effort taken to sync lips or whatever. Two characters have scenes where they sing in a lounge, where it's made explicitly clear that what they are singing and the song that we hear are not the same thing. Lateral tracking shots end awkwardly because the dolly or whatever they mounted the camera on bumps into a nearby table. I would say that the writing sounds like something a third grader would think up, but to be honest that would be insulting to third graders everywhere. The editing is also atrocious, with random scenes appearing from out of nowhere without explanation. The most egregious example is when, in the middle of the family's struggle, the film cuts to a random scene about two women being picked up by a shady looking bald guy. There's no context to this scene at all, and we have no idea who the hell these people are and why they're important to the story.

I don't have to tell you the film is terrible. But it is very funny. In fact, I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't enjoy it. I give up. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing this to myself. Maybe I'm a masochist. Maybe I have issues or something.

Including myself, there were only four people in the theater when I watched this, and at least two of us spent the majority of the film just laughing at it. Consider these gems:
  • In one scene, Allen Dizon makes out with this drug dealer lady in the car. She takes off her dress and the scene blurs out to the next day. Allen Dizon then spots THE WOMAN'S DRESS inside the car, implying that she went home in her underwear. He tosses the dress to the side and it somehow later magically appears outside the car, where Allen Dizon's househelp see the dress and parade it around.
  • Another scene is shot at a pool party, where two people are rapping for some reason. They also never show the entire pool, which makes me wonder if they only had the budget to rent that small portion of the pool.
  • Another scene is supposed to take place in a nightclub, but there are usually no more than three people there. In one scene in particular, there's only drug dealer lady and exactly one DJ. One very sad, lonely DJ.
  • The police get involved eventually. Head Police Guy Jeric Raval (his name in the trailer is spelled "Jaric Raval") wears nothing but a jacket. His fellow police men are similarly dressed, but Jeffrey Santos (who supposedly plays an ATTORNEY) is decked out like a fucking navy seal, complete with body armor and modded-out carbine with laser sight. WTF?
  • In one scene where Allen Dizon's son Jonathan is smoking weed with some friends, one of his friends looks directly at the camera and does a Gollum impression, because why the fuck not.
  • In one scene, Drug Lord guy hires Potential Mole to kill his wife Drug Dealer Lady. Potential Mole almost has the job done but he is incapacitated. Drug Lord is confronted by Drug Dealer Lady, and Drug Lord weasels out of it saying that he knew Potential Mole would never have the balls to kill her! Game of Thrones Drugs much?
  • Jonathan goes home with a bunch of friends. Drunk Mom appears and does not say anything but she kinda gives him the eye a couple times before walking away.
  • And finally, the greatest flashback scene in cinematic history: Influential Congressman is trapped by "Jaric Raval" and his heavily armed lawyer. We then flash back to 20 years in the past, where everyone is being played by the same actors, but wearing hip 90's wear (Allen Dizon even walks in wearing a bandana!) YOUNG!Influential Congressman even wears a cap with "1996" on it, just to hammer down the point. Congressman wears the 1996 cap in a rape scene later on just to differentiate him from another guy in another rape scene because the two scenes are shot very similarly.
Alejandro Jodorowsky once said that his films such as El Topo and the like were created to give the viewer the experience of taking drugs without actually taking them. In many ways, this film seems to do the same thing.

Cinelokal | Puti explores how we lose something vital when we compromise our art

The premise of Mike Alcazaren's film Puti is intriguing: a skilled counterfeit painter, Amir (Ian Veneracion) loses his color vision thanks to an accident. As he convalesces, he starts to see strange and weird things.

Amir's struggle reflects an age-old struggle between art and commercialism. He has created fantastic original works, but they have not sold very well. His skill at counterfeiting brings him loads of cash, but as a consequence +he doesn't care for the art itself, painting his forgeries upside down to focus on the technical details of the artwork instead of looking at the bigger picture.

This struggle is externalized when Amir loses his vision and starts to hallucinate. The loss of color vision is Amir compromising his art for the sake of money, seeing the world in the black-and-white terms of cold hard cash. He approaches his art with the cold detachment of a machine, yet the humanity of the art he is trying to produce (macabre or not) tries to creep back: tales of gruesome mutilation, or tales of tender lullabies.

Amir's relationships with the people in his life are also explored in the film. Some perhaps act as surrogates for his dead wife, and it's clear he is trying to fill the void that she left. This internal discussion really doesn't kick into gear until later into the story, almost as an afterthought, though little bits of it exist in the earlier parts of the film.

In the end, the film follows the general psychological thriller plot conventions. In the past 5 years there have been two local films that share the same structure (not to mention numerous foreign films), and after seeing Amir's accident I had a sense of how the movie would end. I had hoped I would be proven wrong, but I was proven right, and plot twists no longer feel like plot twists if one is ready for them. I have not seen the original Cinefilipino cut so I can't judge how the film has changed since then, but a nice scene at the end leaves things open ended and mysterious enough that it ultimately pays off.

Puti plays a precarious balancing act between being too abstract and being not abstract enough. While I think it mostly succeeds and delivers in the first half, the second half is a bit more clunky, the film trying to fit the pieces together when it doesn't have to.

Cinelokal screens at selected SM cinemas, with new films out every Friday. Visit the Cinelokal Facebook page for more details.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Beguiled is an artfully done film about women in cages

There's a striking visual motif that pops up every so often in Sofia Coppola's film The Beguiled: a shot of sunlight filtering through the trees. It evokes a feeling of emotions struggling to break the surface, whether it be desire or a longing for freedom. The film's main characters, teachers and students in a remote seminary in the American South during the Civil War, are relatively sheltered from the war's effects, but the sounds of distant fire serve as a grim reminder of how trapped they are.

And the main characters of the film are for all intents and purposes trapped in a cage of their own, and this resonates on many levels: on the surface they are surrounded by the stark reality of the Civil War. At the same time, their true natures are hidden behind facades of civility and decorum. Removed from the concerns of the war, their small boarding house serves as an oasis, isolated from the rest of the world. Yet as women, they are still bound by tradition and the societal norms of the day. With war representing the affairs of men, they are literally and figuratively surrounded by men, unable to escape their influence.

This is exacerbated by the arrival of Corporal McBurney, who proves to be a disruptive influence on the group. You can see it by how the camera travels over his body near the beginning of the film. Some of this attraction is overt; some of it is hidden behind pregnant stares. In this regard, A stellar cast is needed, and Kirsten Dunst, Elle Fanning and Nicole Kidman all deliver.

Upon comparing this to the 1971 Don Siegel adaptation, the film remarkably captures the essence of the source material, while expanding the women's perspective. One thing I noted was the omission of a slave character that existed in the 1971 adaptation. Personally, it would have been nice conceptually to include the character in the film. While Coppola has no obligation to be historically accurate with her films (one look at Marie Antoinette and one realizes she isn't as heavily concerned with accuracy) it's understandable given her desire to streamline the plot.

The Beguiled is visually lush, layered by a keen arthouse sensibility , Its final sequence is ambivalent, underscoring a desire for empowerment and independence, but reminding us at the same time that then and even today, women occupy gilded cages.

Friday, September 08, 2017

The Live Action JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a run of the mill anime adaptation

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is a voluminous work spanning thirty years of manga, anime, video games and more, covering decades of in-universe time. While its popularity is limited overseas (most people will probably recognize the series from the memes it produces,) it has a dedicated following to this day.

The 2017 Live-Action adaptation of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure is directed by prolific director Takashi Miike. On paper, this would seem like a sweet deal: Miike is known for crazy, over the top films, and JoJo's a series known for its flamboyant badassery. However, some of Miike's recent films are films such as Terra Formars that are more safe than anything else. Unfortunately, this film seems to fit in that category.

The film adapts the first part of the Diamond is Unbreakable story arc, which originally ran in the mid nineties. An anime adaptation of that arc recently aired last year, so it's an understandable place to start. The story follows Josuke Higashikata, a teenager with a crazy hairdo and a heart of gold. Josuke has a special power called a Stand that allows him to fight and heal others. This puts him at odds with mysterious individuals that seek to create new Stand users in the relatively peaceful city of Morioh.

The fights are relatively fun, with strategy often winning the day against brute force. The movie, however, doesn't completely capture the craziness of the series and it can be quite dull in some places. This works as a setup for later films, but that has the unfortunate effect of ending just when things start to get interesting. Instead of embracing the over-the-top-ness of the series, the movie takes a step back and keeps things unremarkable.

The performances are okay, and it's a joy to see character actor Jun Kunimura in any role. The rest of the cast are okay, but many are underutilized thanks to the way the story is set up.

As a fan, I'm willing to stick with this movie series to see what happens next. Judging from the original title, sequels are being planned. That said, at this point the anime is a much better alternative and this live action movie series will probably appeal only to fans.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Tokyo Ghoul's moral landscape is complex and fascinating

In the world of Tokyo Ghoul, humans are not at the top of the food chain: creatures called Ghouls, who take human form, serve as predators. All other kinds of food repel them; humans are their sole source of nutrition and their only means of survival.

I have not read the original Tokyo Ghoul manga, and I have only seen a few episodes of the anime, so I cannot comment on how good the live action Tokyo Ghoul is as an adaptation. (The movie adapts the first 8 or so episodes of the anime). That said, as a standalone movie, Tokyo Ghoul is quite entertaining, tackling topics that are relevant in today's world.

We view the movie through the eyes of Kaneki (Masataka Kubota), who becomes a human-ghoul hybrid after a series of very unfortunate events. Confused at his new nature as a ghoul, he finds refuge in a community of ghouls that seek to coexist with humanity (or at least make as small an impact as possible.)

Tokyo Ghoul depicts a community demonized by the actions of some of its members. On one side, the CCG (the film's main anti-Ghoul faction) aims to eradicate any ghoul, good or not. Their sense of justice is absolutist and uncompromising, and for a while it feels justified why they are doing this, considering the number of people killed by the Ghouls. On the other hand, Ghouls aren't all murderous hunters treating humans as food; while some Ghouls certainly fit the bill as dangerous predators, others do not wish to harm humans and want to live their lives in peace. Their appetite for humanity is something innate within them, but they try to control these impulses for the sake of fitting into society. Tokyo Ghoul refuses to paint either side as black or white, and I found this moral ambiguity fascinating.

Kaneki sees this morally ambiguous landscape and sees that something is terribly wrong and must be changed, that neither side is completely right or wrong.

The film drags in some places, but is generally well-paced. The two leads, Masataka Kubota and Fumika Shimizu are great in their respective roles; Shimizu in particular uses her experience from tokusatsu productions to give a great performance as Touka. I'm guessing some story elements are vaguely explained due to the nature of the film as an adaptation, but I'm not really in a position to say so. The blood and gore is pretty satisfying, though the CGI is iffy in some places.

Even if you haven't seen the original anime or manga, Tokyo Ghoul is a pretty fun watch. Hopefully a live action sequel is in the works, as I don't mind diving headlong into this world's universe again.

Fangirl Fanboy is pretty much by the numbers

The super-popular Koreanovela "Program for Love" is being remade into Tagalog. Ollie (Julian Trono) tries to audition for the main role. In the process he meets Aimee (Ella Cruz) who dubbed the voice of the main character of the original Program for Love. It turns out that Aimee has had a crush on Ollie for a while now. Sparks fly, people fall in love, etc etc etc.

Fangirl Fanboy is as run of the mill as teen romantic films go. If there were a checklist of things that romantic comedies usually do, this film would probably score pretty well. There's the requisite love team, the romantic rival, a medical condition (that surprisingly doesn't really amount to anything), an exotic location, and some dramatic fluff near the end to complicate things. 

The film is at least watchable. The two leads are ok and the film is very light. There's no doubt fans of this duo will probably be in for an okay time. The first part of the film tackles a few interesting things about dreams vs. reality and the nature of true love.

That said, the film is pretty unremarkable. The script is rather erratic, often unable to explain certain plot points. For example, I assumed that Ollie was a washed up actor, but that isn't well explored. Nowhere in the film was it stated that Aimee's parents had any problem with her dubbing, but that is suddenly brought up in the last third of the film as if it were a big deal. It also turns out that her dubbing was a part time thing, while I had assumed it was her main gig. Ollie's obsession with the original maid from Program for Love is hinted at, but it doesn't really pan out. Many subplots are thrown away by the conclusion of the film: Ollie's problem with his family, his career prospects and so on.

I find it hard to recommend this film if you are not a fan of the two actors involved. While it's watchable, it pales in comparison to other contemporary rom coms that try to play with genre tropes. Ultimately, Fangirl Fanboy disappears into the crowd.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Love You to the Stars and Back is a lovely film about wounded people and bonding over farts

On the surface, Antoinette Jadaone's Love You to the Stars and Back resembles her sleeper hit film That Thing Called Tadhana: both are romantic comedy-road movie hybrids about a couple with chemistry that go up a mountain (or two). But this film takes this into interesting directions, creating something lovely in the process.

Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto, fresh from their MMFF hit Vince and Kath and James, play Caloy and Mika. Caloy is a lively young man with a debilitating illness; Mika is a girl who is still in the process of grieving over her deceased mother and  has trouble accepting her new stepmom into her life.

The film suits the road movie structure well: it serves to highlight the emotional journeys of Caloy and Mika as they struggle with their own problems. Jadaone has used this type of movie in some of her best films, such as the aforementioned Tadhana and the lesser known Relaks, It's Just Pag-ibig. There's also a plot element that raises interesting questions about the gigantic financial burden of healthcare, though for the sake of focus the director prevents it from taking over the rest of the film.

The film primarily works because of its two lead actors: Joshua Garcia and Julia Barretto are amazing together. Garcia in particular is phenomenal - it's hard to imagine audiences won't empathize with his character in some fashion. The most powerful scenes in the movie (especially one that takes place on a bridge) shine through thanks to Garcia and Barretto's performances. Jadaone wisely builds the relationship of the two leads by relying on small moments that build up into something more profound, instead of fake grand gestures and manufactured scenes. It makes the eventual romance  flow better and feel more natural.

As with many road movies, the destination isn't as important as the journey, and Love You to the Stars and Back is all about the journey towards love. It's all about how we, wounds and all, find shelter in each other, even if those wounds don't heal easily. It's about how love means we don't have to carry our burdens alone. As a movie, while it stays within the conventions of what you'd expect in a Star Cinema romantic comedy, it does those things exceedingly well. It hits every emotional beat and lives in every moment; it expresses itself with a directorial voice that is experienced and confident. And for me it solidifies Garcia and Barretto's position as a force to be reckoned with as far as love teams go.